Towering defender Harry Souttar maintained his goalscoring form to steer the Socceroos to a hard-fought but unconvincing 1-0 World Cup qualifying win over Palestine.
The Socceroos sit top of Group I on six points after Souttar nodded home in the 18th minute at the Jaber Al-Ahmed International Stadium.
But only a magnificent save from Mat Ryan just before halftime stopped an excellent Palestine from equalising.
With Bangladesh and Lebanon drawing 1-1 in their earlier match Australia will resume qualifying in March four points clear with four matches to play — the top two teams in the group go through to the next stage.
The Socceroos struggled to deal with Palestine’s intense press and failed to create many meaningful chances.
The win was also soured by a groin injury to right-back Ryan Strain in the 21st minute, with Lewis Miller replacing the St Mirren defender.
Coach Graham Arnold opted for a more experienced line-up than the team that beat Bangladesh 7-0 in Melbourne on Thursday night.
Aziz Behich, Kye Rowles, Martin Boyle and Ryan Strain replaced Jordan Bos, Cameron Burgess, Brandon Borrello and Miller.
The game was relocated from the West Bank to Kuwait due to the escalation in violence in the region, but the crowd was clearly pro-Palestine.
The Palestine players wore keffiyehs around their necks for their national anthem and both teams lined up around the centre circle before kick-off for a minute’s silence.
In response to Hamas’ October 7 terror attack that killed about 1,200 people, Israel has bombarded Gaza with retaliatory strikes.
Palestinian officials say more than 13,000 people in Gaza have been killed.
The Socceroos have already committed a portion of their match payments to Oxfam’s humanitarian efforts in Gaza with the sum matched by Football Australia.
Like against Bangladesh, Craig Goodwin delivered the ball for Souttar to open the scoring.
Goodwin curled a wicked left-footed corner onto the forehead of Souttar, who drove a powerful header home for his 10th international goal.
Palestine weren’t deterred, continuing to press and almost equalling in the 45th minute.
Musab Al Battat’s cross picked out Ataa Jaber, whose squaring touch landed in the path of Tamer Seyam.
But Ryan made himself big to block a shot seemingly destined to nestle in the back of the net.
Arnold turned to substitutes Bos and Borrello in the 62nd minute.
Barely two minutes later, Borrello forced a good save from Palestine goalkeeper Rami Hamadeh, while Bos should have scored when he headed Connor Metcalfe’s subsequent corner onto the bar.
From there, Palestine had the Socceroos on the back foot, but were unable to conjure an equaliser.
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